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And She Is A Woman: Angie McMahon On 'Salt' & Arguing With Men About Gender

Angie McMahon

Photo by Paige Clark

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And She Is A Woman: Angie McMahon On 'Salt' & Arguing With Men About Gender

Ahead of her set in L.A., McMahon sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about her debut LP, processing her experiences through writing and attempting to argue about gender with men

GRAMMYs/Jul 26, 2019 - 08:11 pm

Folk-pop performer Angie McMahon has a remarkable voice. Yes, she sings for a living, but the Australian singer/songwriter's trill is immediately captivating, deep and husky and reminiscent of everyone from Danielle Haim to Fiona Apple to Florence Welch. It's also quite unexpected coming from someone with such a slight frame and unassuming presence.

To American audiences, the 25-year-old may appear to have come out of nowhere, but McMahon, who releases her debut LP, Salt, today via Dualtone, has been in the game for the last six years or so, playing around Melbourne with a local soul project called The Fabric. She's also no stranger to playing to massive audiences: In 2013 she won a local songwriting competition to open for Bon Jovi on the Australian leg of their Because We Can tour, and as of now, in addition to playing the festival circuit (she's heading to Newport Folk Festival this weekend), she's currently prepping to go on tour with GRAMMY nominee Hozier. Her music, meanwhile, covers tried and true topics like relationships, but also looks at major themes of the day: On recent single "And I Am A Woman," she tries to communicate the nuance of a woman's experience to the opposite sex.

Ahead of her set in L.A., McMahon sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about her debut LP, processing her experiences through writing and attempting to argue about gender with men. 

I imagine the first thing most people think when they hear you is, “Wow, what a voice!” Is that something you get a lot?

I do. Sometimes if people haven't heard me sing and they hear me speak first, because my voice is kind of nasal. I think I speak like a kid sometimes, and then my singing voice is different. But yeah, I think I just shaped that around singers that I really loved, and I didn't even really notice that I was doing it when I was younger. k.d. lang is a really big one for me, the deep vocal work that she [does], and the deep emotion that she can bring up. I think when I started listening to her, I was just like, "I want to be able to do that." 

Did you grow up singing?

Yeah, sort of. I grew up playing piano when I was quite young, and then that turned into really loving covering pop songs and singing to myself. I didn't really learn singing, [or have] singing lessons, until I was maybe 18. 

I was always singing along in the car when we were going on family drives and stuff. We'd go out into the bush for a bit and listen to CDs. I was just constantly singing along, and constantly making my mom replay [songs, saying] “It's my favorite song.” I was like, "Again!" Even driving up and singing. I was probably pretty annoying as a sibling.

Did you start playing guitar around the same time? 

Yeah, I started playing guitar. It comes back to covering pop songs, and wanting to have the option of performing, picturing myself as a performer and starting to think about talent shows and stuff, maybe like 14, and not wanting to take a keyboard everywhere.

So I started learning guitar based off of my piano skills, and YouTube and stuff. I can't remember exactly why, what it was that triggered it, but I think it was probably the music that I was listening to, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen my dad was playing in the car. It made me want to be able to do that instrument. I still listen to those records, and want to be able to play the way that they play. I want to learn harmonica so I can play, just reach that sound space. But yeah, that's where the guitar came into it. I haven't had guitar lessons ever, and I'm really not very good. I'm not saying that out of humility. I know that my skill level is at a certain level, and I really would like to excel.

How many years were you playing around Melbourne before you started touring internationally?

I was always doing solo gigs here and there, but not very seriously, just whenever they would come up. That was probably from when I was about 17, 16 or 17. I'm 25 now, so maybe there was five years before I was looking to start the band. I was also in another band [The Fabric], which was a really good way for me to build experience and to keep singing, and to learn how to interact with boys in a band, and be in a band space. That was a soul group, so there were nine of us. There were eight boys and then me singing, and that went for three years from when I was 18 to 21.

Did you go to school for music?

No, I didn't. The uni that I was at had a music school that I didn't get into. I was doing English there and literature, [but] my extra subjects were music stuff, which is kind of the best way to go about it because I got to do the fun songwriting [classes] without having to do the assessments and intensive jazz training. It basically was a jazz course, and I can't sing jazz. I'm just not adept at that technique. I mean I had really good teachers at school, really good. I had a trumpet teacher who was a really big mentor for me in high school, and I had my piano teacher who was always really patient and lovely. All the teachers that I had mentored me in such a lovely way, but I didn't have a specific music course that I completed or anything.

Do you intend for music to be a living?

Yeah. I'd never really thought of it financially, but as a pursuit, just the way that I want to spend my time. It's always been what I was thinking about. It was kind of a source of an existential crisis, because my work ethic for a lot of my life, a lot of my teen years, was just not very good. It was this thing of always picturing myself on stage, and wanting to perform for my life and write songs, but not having done enough of the work for that to materialize.                                  

When I was finishing my degree and stuff, I'd gone through my whole English degree, sitting in every lecture theater, just picturing myself doing music and writing song lyrics in my notepad and stuff. It was just this fairy land, and then I finished my degree. I was faced with nothing that I wanted to do except music. I had to give myself a pep talk, several pep talks over the years, and some from my parents as well. But basically switched into the mode where I was like, okay. I have to look at the business side of the industry, and I have to understand what I'm willing to work at, and what I want to achieve. 

I know that you're about to put out your debut, Salt. It features a lot of tracks that were on your EP, A Couple Of Songs. What was the thinking in including most of the EP songs on the LP? 

Well, we were ready to put [an LP] out, and then we met Dualtone and wanted to have a chance to release it probably in America. It's such a big country and such a big industry over here, so we really wanted to work with Dualtone. They were so great, but we had to figure out a way to promote the singles that have already been released across the world. That's where the Couple Of Songs EP came in.

It's interesting for me, because these songs on the record, they are on the album, so it's almost like, at this point, a lot of the album has been released. I guess that was for the sake of having a way to kind of push it into this market, and we just kind of came out with a couple of songs EP on the fly. I was like, "Well, why don't we do a little EP?" That's where that kind of came from, but I'm glad we did it that way, because I feel like the songs have their own individual life.

I remember there was an artist who I loved when I was younger, who put out an EP that I was just obsessed with, and I couldn't wait for his album to come out. When his album came out, it wasn't nearly as exciting to me as the songs on the EP were. I just wished that those songs had been on the record. It was just one of those things where I watched that happen as a fan, and as an artist, I just want to put out an album. I just want that to be the first collection of songs.

What's the thought behind the name Salt?

I don't have one answer for that, but I always knew that that was what I wanted to call it. I tried to come up with other names that made a bit more sense where they were from the album or something, but nothing else quite fit. I went with that word because to me, it represents a feeling of balance. Looking back on the songs, which are this collection of experiences that I had, romance and friendship and growing up, up until I was 22... To me, it looks like what is left after all of those experiences. It's the remainder of what I went through growing up.

It's similar to the way that salt is what's left over when water evaporates. Then it's like salt is in your tears. It's like salty tears, and salted wounds. It can sting, and it can bring out taste, and it can cleanse things. I think a lot about the ocean, and the way that it's terrifying and also so liberating to swim in. It's just all of these kind of metaphors that circle for me around salt as a mineral.

I'd also love to get your perspective on your most recent song, "And I Am a Woman." What was the thought behind that title?

There's no single thought for me behind this song either as well. It's such a big concept to tackle. It's just something that I'm being more and more interested in as I grow up as a songwriter, and as a person. It's maybe the moment you are content.

That was the most recent song that I wrote for the record, even though it was two years ago. The whole song came from this heated conversation about women's bodies in public spaces, and a real disagreement with this person about what we're entitled to with equality, and all that kind of stuff. I was so frustrated, and the lyric about being in my home is very much about being in my personal space, and in my body, or in my safety, or whatever. Then I guess the second half of the lyric, "and I am a woman," it almost felt like the most obvious thing.

How am I going to word this? You know when you're having an argument with someone? Arguing with men about gender, or discussing the misunderstanding of something that to you is so obvious. It's so frustrating, and you're just like, "To me this is the most obvious thing. Based on my experience and my life, you should focus on the standards," and they just don't. "And I Am A Woman" just feels like this really obvious thing to say, that carries so much weight, but is also really simple.

It's interesting. So much of the music industry and live industry, it's just male-dominated. I love the boys that I work with, but sometimes things just happen where you just need someone who shares this experience to understand why this affects me, and why it's a manifestation of how many times this has happened to me over my life. Things are just becoming louder now, and we're understanding what we are entitled to more and more, what we shouldn't lay down for. So it's the frustration at that same time is building, because the change is so small. I want to be more fluent in that discourse, and I want everyone to be more fluent in it so we can talk about it more and more.

I did also want to ask you a bit about the song "Pasta." I have to admit that the name reminded me of Courtney Barnett's song about ramen.

Yeah. I love her. She's an inspiration for my songwriting, for sure. She captures this humor and kind of relaxed personality type that I really relate to. Maybe it's a Melbourne thing, or maybe it's an age thing, but basically her music is awesome. I also think the tone of her songwriting has inspired me. There's a realness to it that is so exciting.

When you're writing, are you interested in projecting a tone of honesty?

I think it's more satisfying for me to write something to complete a lyric or whatever that is really honest, and with rhymes, and says what I am feeling or going through without realizing that's what I was feeling or going through until I wrote it down, so the satisfaction that comes from that. Then if I'm able to lace in humor or a double-sided metaphor or whatever, those kinds of things, it's just so satisfying. For me, [songwriting is] very much a way that I process my own experiences. Until this point, and it might change, but all the songs basically have been autobiographical. I think that that will keep developing. I have a long way to go in my songwriting, which is exciting for me. 

What's next for you? Are you working on future recordings? 

I find it hard to [write] well touring, and it's been a lot of touring in the last year, so I haven't completed a whole bunch of new songs. I would really like to be able to take the time to do that. It's basically the next year, I guess, is going to be balancing how much touring we can do, and how much time I can take off to write, so that's just something that I'm figuring out. It's also you can't force it. Just because you take the time off doesn't mean that's when you're inspired. The rest of the year we're touring the album in Australia, and then I'm coming back here to tour with Hozier, and then that basically brings us to the end of the year. So hopefully after that I can take some months. I'm really feeling like writing again. I think it's got to do with putting out the first record. It feels like a clean slate. I'm ready for the next thing.

CHAI On Redefining "Cute," Subverting Uniformity & Tasting American Ramen

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards